In a global pandemic like the current coronavirus situation, our cars are a bit like microbial prisons. All the worst stuff from everywhere in the outside world gets dragged in and stays. All the good stuff follows us in, too, but that subtle whiff of pine on Uncle Fred’s jacket is far less consequential than COVID-19.
Luckily, keeping your car clean isn’t all that complicated. The most effective weapon against COVID-19 is soap (for seats and dashboards, of course). It doesn’t need to be antibacterial. Pretty much any household soap will do. Even that frou-frou decorative bar with the ribbon around it probably has the right stuff in it. Soap interacts with viruses in much the same way it does oils: it breaks them down. So a simple soap scrub will annihilate any viruses in your car, and soap is unlikely to degrade your interior surfaces the way many cleaners can. But that business about scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds applies here, too. You can’t just move some soap around and then rinse it off. Soap needs time to surround and break down the virus.
When cleaning, wear disposable gloves. And be sure to pay special attention to door handles, steering wheel, shifter, seatbelt buckles, and other surfaces you touch the most. It’s not a good idea to be splashing water all over your infotainment system or even the steering wheel, though (plenty of electronics in those today), and bleach solutions are obviously not a good idea for interior fabrics and materials. This comprehensive list from the Environmental Protection Agency of cleaners that are effective against the virus includes plenty of bleach-free sprays and wipes.
As always with a car interior, be sure to test the product in an inconspicuous area in case of unforeseen discoloration. And if you have a leather interior, be aware that many cleaning products can dry out the leather. After cleaning and drying, you should make a second pass over any leather surfaces with a leather conditioner to avoid cracking.
And most important, if you’re showing any symptoms of having contracted coronavirus, get the necessary treatment; see CDC’s website for the latest information.